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Chicagoan Allen Shapiro honchos annual New Year’s Eve television extravaganza

The year-end holiday season is Chicago native Allen Shapiro’s true crunch time — the absolute busiest time of the year for the CEO of Dick Clark Productions, overseeing such widely watched shows as “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest,” the American Music Awards, the Hollywood Film Awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards and the Golden Globes.

“In a short period of time, it’s a lot,” said Shapiro recently phoning from his Los Angeles office.

Since the New Year’s Eve extravaganza is on the horizon, Shapiro talked about the biggest challenges behind producing the annual television special, which begins this year at 7 p.m. on WLS-Channel 7. (New Year’s entertainment continues until 2:15 a.m., with interruptions for local news at 10 p.m. and “Countdown Chicago” from 11:08 to 12:15.)

“Trying to do anything in front of a million people, live there in Times Square, is a challenge by itself,” he said. “Just the logistics of movement requires incredible planning and coordination.”

Security is a major issue, especially after the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, he said. “When we first started, of course we had key involvement with both police and fire officials, and some contact with federal agencies, but after 9/11 — between Homeland Security and the FBI — there’s a level of security consciousness that we never had at all before.”

There is also Mother Nature to contend with. Shapiro laughed as he noted his Chicago roots, where winter weather is instilled in locals at an early age. “But with New Year’s Eve in New York, you’re doing a show where the weather is completely unpredictable. And there’s no cover for the weather. You’re out there. We can have — and have had — everything from freezing snow to freezing rain. Anything is possible. You just have not idea, but have to carry on no matter what.”

One thing that is not an issue is convincing entertainers to be part of the mix. Among the acts on the bill this year: Nick Jonas, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, OMI, Pentatonix, Nathan Sykes, One Direction, 5 Seconds of Summer, Fall Out Boy, Andy Grammer, Ellie Goulding, Elle King, Tove Lo, Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood, Demi Lovato, Wiz Khalifa and Jimmy Buffett.

One aspect of planning for New Year’s Eve that does not give Shapiro sleepless nights is the confidence he has in his show’s host, Ryan Seacrest. Shapiro said that when he thinks about the broadcast personality, he’s reminded of the late great Dick Clark.

“There’s one thing Dick had that has continued with Ryan. Dick was really an [avid] fan and held artists and performers in the highest regard. … I think Ryan has that exact same attitude. He is very, very respectful of performers and he’s very interested in them.”

To illustrate that point, Shapiro revealed the way he and his team initiate a conversation with entertainers hired to perform on New Year’s Eve.

“We never start with, ‘Here’s what we want you to do.’ We always start with, ‘What would you like to do?’ ”

On top of that, Shapiro noted that Seacrest’s preparation for New Year’s Eve is extremely involved. “I’ve never met anyone, quite frankly, who does his homework as thoroughly as Ryan. … He is so prepared. He never just phones anything in. He knows all about the performer’s work and everything they’ve ever done in the business. …  [He also has] an ability to connect with the public that is hard to find. Plus, he appeals across enormous sectors of the population. That is an important element in the continued success of the show.”

Speaking of show hosts led to a discussion of Ricky Gervais, who again will be front and center for the Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 10. Asked if the actor and comedian’s zingers from his earlier Globes hosting gigs makes him nervous, Shapiro said: “Actually, he doesn’t make me nervous. He’s edgy, but he’s unbelievably talented and really funny. Also, by this time — as opposed to the first series of shows that he hosted for the Hollywood Foreign Press — the audience knows what to expect. They don’t know exactly what he’s going to do, but they know the tone of what he’s going to do. What’s he going to say this year? I don’t know, but I can’t wait.”

Before our conversation ended, Shapiro took a moment to reminisce about growing up in the Chicago area — first in Hyde Park, and later in Skokie. Along with chatting about pizza and and Our Town’s famous steakhouses, the entertainment mogul explained that after he graduated from Northwestern Law School, he went to work at Playboy.

“I kind of always knew that I was interested in the entertainment business, but in the era when I grew up, no one I knew was in the business.  But Playboy back then was the biggest game in town in that field. When I got out of law school in ’72, I got a great opportunity. There was an opening in the office of the general counsel of Playboy. Besides the magazine being at its strongest then, Playboy had clubs and casinos and hotels. There was a record company on the West Coast. From my perspective they had everything.

“It really was kind of my ticket into the world of entertainment.”